Brexit – The Great Escape?

Will the UK make a break for freedom this week from the hell of life outside the EU which awaits unless MPs start to act responsibly and debate instead of rehearse their long-established prejudices.

Today we celebrate the anniversary of “The Great Escape” immortalised, of course, by the great Steve McQueen. The story itself was grossly over played and the reality was much grimmer than the fantasy. British men were determined to escape and get home to continue the fight. Only a few made it and some were recaptured and shot.

I wonder if this weekend we have resolved as a Country to make our own ‘Great Escape’ from the tangled morass of Brexit. Yesterday a million+ people marched against Brexit while 100 marched for it. They went to London from Inverness and Cornwall from Liverpool and Leeds. They were of all ages, colours, creeds and classes. They had one common idea. That they were all British but also that they were all European. They went to London with one resolve – to allow the people to have the final say on Brexit. As MPs cannot come to any conclusion it must go back where it started; to the people of the UK.

At the same time 4,920,790 people have signed the Government petition to revoke Article 50. By the time I’ve finished writing this never mind you reading it the number will have passed 5 million. This has really taken off in just 5 days and is the biggest petition in British history.

This corresponds closely with what I have seen on the ground. Over the weekend I have door knocked in Cressington, Allerton & Hunts Cross and my own Church Ward. On each occasion three people volunteered the fact that they had voted Leave at the referendum and now bitterly regretted it. Not one has told me that they have switched the other way either this weekend or in the time since the referendum took place.

When asked why they have switched three reasons come up:

  1. The lie about £350 million a week for the health service has been seen as a total way of deceiving people.
  2. The idea that it would be easy has been exploded. Two people quoted the Tory who said that securing a new trade agreement with the EU would be the easiest in history being done in a couple of hours and concluded with a nice cup of tea!
  3. People now understand the considerable down sides from leaving Europe. One has a relative who had lost their job in a car factory and one works in Birkenhead on the Irish ferries where expensive changes are taking place to deal with EU ship to Dublin and the UK ship to Belfast.

Interestingly no-one has blamed the EU for the impasse. There is a general acceptance that the EU is just defending its own ground just as it has done for the past 45+ years with us as members. People now understand that we need the EU more than the EU needs us.

So as a Remainer and a democrat I defend absolutely the concept of a People’s vote now that we know the facts about what Brexit really means. This vote was an advisory vote within our system of parliamentary democracy. If you doubt that you should remember that this has been confirmed by the Supreme Court based on the Referendum Act moved by David Cameron whilst PM.

No vote is forever. We had two General Elections in two years where substantial numbers of people changed their minds. I will be seeking re-election in May just 4 years after I was last elected. We don’t think that is undemocratic we think that is what democracy is all about. People can see what is happening and can change their minds. This isn’t Russia or China it’s the UK where democracy still underpins our political and governance systems.

I don’t know what is going to happen now. Parliament is still all over the place. But I do know what should happen. There should be a referendum with two questions. 1. Do you want to leave the EU on the terms negotiated by the Prime Minister; or 2. Do you wish to remain in the EU.

Who can really object to this? Mrs May herself tells us that this is the only deal available from the European Union. In fact, it isn’t but it is the only one that she can negotiate given her self-imposed red lines. No other politician including the Leader of the Labour Party has come up with a practical proposition which could be put forward as an alternative and tested in Parliament. Liberal Democrats have not and will not put forward an alternative because we know that there is no alternative deal available which will protect jobs and our place in the World.

All opinion polls suggest that all over the Country there is a clear majority of people in favour of a second referendum as a a way out of the parliamentary impasse. They also suggest that in many constituencies that voted Leave there has been a significant shift of opinion. All 5 Liverpool constituencies are now likely to vote Remain to increase the whopping 58%/42% Remain majority last time.

A second referendum is the only logical way forward. Let us hope that this week Parliament will have looked out of the metaphorical window – seen the 1,000,000+ people; seen the 5,000,000+ petition and will put common sense and democracy in place of pettiness and dogma.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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